Category Archives: Media

Last Year, Next Year

Another year is over, and Cannot be Tamed has just turned 5 years old. While it wasn’t the most positive year for the gaming community as a whole, I think it was a pretty decent year for games. It also marked the year that I quit World of Warcraft and started writing about a much wider variety of topics in gaming. How has that worked out? It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’m enjoying writing more, and I get to play so many more games now. On the other hand, this has been the worst year for Cannot be Tamed in terms of traffic, other than my first. In part this is due to how sparsely I was posting for the first half of the year, but I also think I had carved out a pretty successful niche for myself in WoW that I just haven’t managed to do outside of it. It’s a bit depressing to see that 2 year old gear guides are still being seen more often than new posts that I pour a lot more of my heart and soul into. It’s not all about views, but I like when people read my stuff, and like it even better when I get feedback.

I published 57 posts this year. The most popular was my Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Exciting that it’s not a WoW post, but the next dozen popular posts are all WoW guides.

And what about my favourite posts? Here are a few.

Monkey on My Back – I wrote this about WoW and, though I never actually use the word, addiction. These are all the things that kept me playing for so long. Articulating these thoughts and reading them out loud was pretty much the moment I decided I needed to stop.

A History of Control(lers) – Alright, I’m a geek, and this post probably won’t appeal to many people who don’t feel as passionately about console controllers as I do. I thought this was a fun look back at all the consoles and controllers I’ve shared my life with.

This is the Way the World Ends – A troubling look at how one of my favorite genres, dystopic and end of the world fiction, treats women.

Doing it Right: Remember Me – It’s easy to criticize games for the shitty way they treat women (because, let’s be honest, the ways in which games do this are endless), but I also think it’s important to compliment the ones that are making improvements and doing things right. I meant for this to be a regular feature, and though I only ended up doing this twice last year, hopefully I’ll be inspired to do it more in 2015.

Quality vs. Enjoyment – A look at some of the games that manage to both drive me completely crazy and make me fall in love with them.

Feelings – Probably one of my favourite posts I’ve even written, this is a look at the games that have made me feel the most.

Incidentally, my favourite posts are the ones that got the least attention, but I guess that’s just how things go.

I’m also pretty proud of my Gamer Questionnaire and was really excited at how many responses it got. It inspired more than 50 blog posts and even a few podcast episodes. If you haven’t done it yet, and are looking for a post idea, check it out. I was also happy to be a guest on Justice Points twice this year, once to talk about Tomb Raider, and once to just chat about games. Discussing games on Twitter or in comments is great, but it’s always really nice to actually get to talk about them with smart, awesome people. I was also briefly on RT news, who interviewed me about the GTAV ban in Australian stores, which was both cool and bizarre. It’s so strange to hear a 6 minute interview get put into a 12 second soundbite.

What about next year? I have a few goals.

  • I’d like to experiment with videos and streaming more. I’m not sure those things are really my jam – I don’t think I’m exuberant or talkative enough to make people want to watch me play games – but I’d like to give it a shot.
  • I’d like to write more. I think every blogger says this every year.
  • I’d like to interact more with other gaming people. I love getting comments and feedback, so I feel the need to put more of those things out there myself.
  • I’d like to make a game. After discovering sortingh.at  I realized that this is something I can do, despite my lack of artistic ability. It won’t be big, or complex, but I want to make something.

Anyways, Happy New Year, thanks for reading. Here’s to a great 2015.

Best Games of 2014

It’s that time of year when everyone writes about the best games of the year, and thought I’d add my 2 cents. This list feels a bit disingenuous since I currently own or want a number of 2014 releases that I just haven’t had time to get to yet, but I can only play so many games in a single year!

I think 2014 has gotten a lot of flack, as many consider it a weak year for gaming. I disagree. The beginning of the year was a bit weak – the PS4 and XBox One had just come out, and there are always growing pains and a lack of games to play on brand new systems. Also, a number of games that came out this year were remasters of games that had come out over the last couple years as well. But as we got closer to the middle and end of the year, a number of real heavy hitters started getting released, and I think the year ended on a good note.

So here are my top 6 games released in 2014.

Tomb Raider

I struggled with giving a best of 2014 award to a game that actually came out in 2013 and only got a remaster in 2014, but Tomb Raider was so much fun that I just can’t resist. Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with aplomb. We got a Lara Croft origin story that was thrilling and Lara herself got her best makeover ever. I’ve written about all the things I felt Tomb Raider did right from a feminist perspective but, when it comes down to it, Tomb Raider takes one of the top spots because it was just so much fun to play. Set pieces and quick time events sent my heart racing. I flinched each time Lara took a blow. Gameplay was fast and smooth with super slick controls. Taking out enemies with my bow, traversing rock faces, swinging down ziplines, all felt so natural. The controls  were so impeccable they actually ruined a number of other PS4 action-adventure games for me. I just couldn’t get into AC: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son – where the characters moved oddly in comparison. I had to fight the controls to get Edward or Delsin to do what I wanted, whereas Tomb Raider made Lara feel like an extension of myself.

Valiant Hearts: the Great War

2014 was not a great year for Ubisoft’s big releases. However, in June Ubisoft Mountpellier put out a lovely puzzle adventure about love, survival, and sacrifice during World War One. The game puts you in the shoes of four different characters whose lives have been intertwined in strange and sometimes heartbreaking ways by the war. Though the game contains no dialogue, I always knew what each character was feeling, in part due to the excellent animation and music. Games often put us into the role of soldiers, but not many do it like this. Valiant Hearts is not a power fantasy, but a history lesson and an experience that makes us question war from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. It was really refreshing to see war from from a non-American view, as the whole game takes place in the period before America joined the war effort. It did make me tear up a few times, most notably during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Valiant Hearts - The Great WarMechanically the game is very enjoyable as well. Gameplay is quite varied, yet still manages to fit into the context of the story. It covers everything from operating machinery to turn off chlorine gas pipes, timing-based movement to sneak between enemy patrols, rhythm based medical procedures, and car chases set to amazing orchestral music. A number of the puzzles involve Walt, a casualty dog, who can help to fetch items from tight places and find injured soldiers. And who doesn’t love games with dogs?

Valiant Hearts is one of those rare games that combine both fun gameplay and a meaningful story to give a great gaming experience.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Left Behind is not really a game on its own, but DLC for The Last of Us. Regardless of this, it’s an amazing experience that deserves a place on game of the year lists. It was great to step into Ellie’s shoes and see her past, as well as expand upon the Winter chapter of The Last of Us. Left Behind is a perfect 2-hour gaming experience that did everything the main game did, but did it better. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is endearing and on point. It’s not as action-heavy, but it wastes no time – every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

PT

I don’t play a lot of horror games, but PT showed me how great they can be. Though it’s really just a playable demo for the new Silent Hills game, it was one of my best gaming experiences of the year. PT created a taut, terrifying experience that delivered not just jump scares, but a truly unsettling environment and disturbing audio and visuals and wormed their way into my psyche. Perhaps it was partly the context of playing the game (I was with great company and a couple bottles of bubbly), but PT managed to keep me so engrossed and curious for more that I played it 3 times in a row. The fact that each playthrough was subtly different was just the icing on the horribly creepy cake.

PT hallwayI think PT was more successful as its own game than it was as a trailer. While PT was exceptional, I don’t have a lot of faith that a horror game can be 12 hours long with more involved gameplay and still be as compelling as this was.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This was one of the few games whose development I followed closely before it was released, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand, and is a refreshing take on the weird horror genre. It’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, with photorealistic environments that put many AAA games to shame, and a gorgeous and moody soundtrack. Ethan Carter is a murder mystery that hints towards a greater darkness. It lets you explore the beautiful world and solve puzzles at your own pace, while still managing to maintain tension throughout its whole 4-5 hour playtime.

Dragon Age: INQUISITION

Four of the previous games on this list are there at least in part due to their short playtimes, which created a tight and well-paced experience. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the complete opposite of those. To be honest, the pacing of the game’s first 10-20 hours was complete shit. However, the game more than makes up for it with its huge, deep, engaging story, wonderfully written dialogue, and sheer enormity of the world. While the size of the game can be a bit overwhelming, this installment of Dragon Age had a sense of place and a real, living world like no other. Once I hit a certain part in the story (which I could have reached way earlier if I had just left the fracking Hinterlands), I was completely enthralled and immersed in the world. The characters, from those in my party, to my advisers, to the people hanging around Skyhold all felt like real people, who I wanted to talk to and learn about. The addition of the War Table made me feel like I was the actual head of an army, who had to make decisions and delegate, rather than a lone adventurer who needed to personally slay every demon and settle every petty dispute myself. I sunk a good 200 hours into this game, and besides those initial 10 or so, I loved every minute of it.


 

Those are my games of the year, what are yours?

 

My History with Kickstarter

Some great games have been funded though Kickstarter – Dragonfall Returns, Wasteland 2, FTL. However, many games that get funded don’t actually get released, draw out the delivery timelines significantly, or under-deliver. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter who seem hesitant to back new games because they had been burned before. I have yet to be burned (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood, because most of the games haven’t been delivered yet). I thought it would be interesting to take a look at all the games I’ve backed, whether they’ve delivered, and how the whole Kickstarter experience has been. As of right now, I have backed 7 games.

Tex Murphy – Project Fedora

Project Fedora KickstarterDate of backing: May 2012
Estimated delivery date: July/August 2013
Actual delivery date: May 2014

Project Fedora is the game that got me into Kickstarter. I love the Tex Murphy adventure games. Love them. From the first time I saw that big box for Under a Killing Moon in Radio Shack with real, live actors on it when I was 11, I’ve been hooked on this series. After Overseer, it seemed like Tex Murphy would be no more, since the software company was sold to Microsoft and they are evil. Then came this kickstarter. I needed to help make this game happen, and pledged a much larger amount of cash than I have for any game since. The devs estimated a 12-14 months development cycle for the game which would put the estimated release date sometime in summer of 2013. The game, Tesla Effect, was actually released in May of 2014, about 10 months after the estimated delivery date. The lateness didn’t both me too much, since there was a ton of communication from the devs, and backers were given frequent updates and peeks at the game as it was being made. I’ve received 78 project updates.

When it released, I was happy. The game delivered what was promised. The quality was a bit uneven – for the whole first half of the game I had a goofy smile plastered onto my face, while some of the second half was a bit of a slog – but overall it was a game I enjoyed and was happy to have supported. It hit me right in the nostalgia feels and for the most part, it was a good game in its own right as well.

The only negative thing I have to say about this project was that almost 6 months after the game was released, I still don’t have my physical backer rewards. I did get all the digital rewards though, many way before the game was released.

Jane Jenson’s Pinkerton Road

Date of backing: May 2012
Estimated delivery date: March 2013
Actual delivery date: April 2014

After signing up with KS for Project Fedora, I found Jane Jenson‘s project. She made another of my favourite adventure series, Gabriel Knight. So of course I had to back this as well, but for a smaller amount that was just enough to get a copy of of one of the two new games the studio would be making: Moebius or a mystery project (which ended up being a GK1 remake). I received 70 project updates total.

Moebius was released in April 2014, a year after the estimated delivery date, and The GK remake came out in October 2014. I wasn’t too disappointed with getting the game late, but I was disappointed with the game itself. It was not good. The quality of Moebius, and the brief looks I’ve gotten at the completely unnecessary GK remake make it likely I won’t support another Pinkerton Road project (unless they switch to a completely new engine at some point). However, I did get what I paid for in the end.

The Curse of Shadow House

Date of backing: June 2012
Estimated delivery date: October 2012
Actual delivery date: August 2013

Curse of Shadow House is an adventure game for mobile devices. I don’t play a lot of mobile games, but I found this project somehow and was in a generous mood so I decided to help fund it. This was a much smaller project than the other two I had backed and the person running it did a really good job with it. The goal was only $8000, and the total funding was a bit over $9k. Some of the physical rewards offered were quite amazing – art prints, handmade necklaces, and journals. I seriously don’t know how this guy made a game and spent all this time/effort/money on physical rewards and shipping with only $9000. He also sent personal messages to every backer to say thank you. Which was very nice.

I got my iTunes code for the game 9 months after the estimated delivery date. The game is decent, it’s a dark adventure games with lots of puzzles. I’m going to admit that I got stuck at some point and haven’t finished it yet though. Over the course of the project I received 47 backer updates. The only iffy part is that this was billed as a trilogy of games, which backers would get all 3 of, and I haven’t heard much about the next two games.

Hero U – Rogue to Redemption

Date of backing: November 2012
Estimated delivery date: October 2013
Actual delivery date: ??

Hero U is another adventure game (noticing a pattern?), this one by the creators of another favourite series – Quest for Glory. Now we’re getting into the games I’m still waiting on. Throughout the process I’ve been getting regular and very detailed back updates (58 so far). There have been a lot of art samples and a lot of discussion of what is going into the design and story of the game. The game is currently 13 months past the estimated delivery date.

The last update did give some solid numbers though. The developers say they have completed: 100% of the design, 85% of the art, 50% of the programming, and have just started the writing. The new tentative delivery date is summer 2015, so the game is in all likelihood going to be delivered 2 years late. I am a bit disappointed with the time frame of this project. I’m no development expert, but considering the scope of the game, 2.5 years for development and delivery seems a bit long, and I’ve reach the point of impatience.

Kona

Date of backing: September 2014
Estimated delivery date: April 2015
Actual delivery date: ??

Kona is an episodic survival adventure game, from a small studio in Quebec. I really like exploration games when they’re well done, and though the though of exploring in the cold, Canadian winter makes me shiver, I really like the concept for this game. I’ve received 16 backer updates so far. It seems like the devs are dealing with financial stuff at this point, which makes me think the April date for episode 1 is a bit of a pipe dream. It is good that they still seem to be raising money though.

Fallen: A2P Protocol

Date of backing: September 2014
Estimated delivery date: March 2015
Actual delivery date: ??

Fallen is a turn-based tactical RPG that’s a cross between Fallout and XCOM. Again, I feel like having a delivery date only 6 months after the project was funded is quite optimistic, though it looks like they’ve already made a playable build. It looks good, though I’m still skeptical about the date.

Something that does not give me warm, fuzzy feelings is that since the project was successfully funded on September 6th, I’ve only received one backer update, and that was more than a month ago. Lack of communication does set off some warning bells.

The Black Glove

The Black Glove is being made by a number of the devs that worked on Bioshock, and you can really tell that by the art and trailers that have been released.  The game looks amazing, right up my alley – the atmosphere and eeriness of Bioshock without the shooting. However, the game is only 27% funded with 7 days left to go. Unless a miracle happens, this may be the first thing I’ve backed that doesn’t get funded. And that makes me sad, because it looks great.


Seven obviously isn’t a huge sample size, but here are some things I’ve learned about backing games on Kickstarter:

  • Take estimated delivery dates with a grain of salt. Or a whole tablespoon of it. Sometimes the estimated delivery date next to the pledge level is not for the actual delivery of the game, but when to start expecting the other rewards. For example, Project Fedora gave me a date of Dec 2012, but that was for digital rewards. In the FAQ section of the project they said they expected a 12-14 month delivery cycle. So it’s tricky to know what you should be expecting when. But even if the date is for the game itself, count on it being late.
  • I’m starting to get wary of episodic games, or projects that promise multiple games. I’m generally pretty confident that the first game/episode will be delivered, but budgeting time and money for multiple releases is harder to pull off. For these projects I feel like I should only back as much as I’d be willing to pay for one release so if the subsequent ones don’t come out, I’m not losing too much.
  • Communication is key. Check to see how many updates are being posted. Updates do tend to be much more frequent during the funding phase than the development phase, but it can still be an indicator of how successful the project will be. I look for updates that show the devs have a very good idea of where they want to take the game, and have things like art or design documents to show backers, or maybe even builds already in progress.
  • Kickstarter is a lot of fun when you’re heavily invested in a project. I checked the Project Fedora page daily as it was being funded, and poured over each backer update with glee. Though my other experiences have generally been positive, none of them have been as exciting as that first one.

Have you backed many games on Kickstarter? How has your experience been?

Information Overload

Once upon a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, before the Internet was a big thing, getting help when you were stuck in a game was not easy. The first game I remember getting stuck on was Maniac Mansion. When I got stuck, there wasn’t a lot of help available. Basically I just had to keep trying new things. Sure it was frustrating but, looking back through wistful rose-coloured glasses, it was also kinda nice. I had to figure things out myself.

However, my gaming hobby had barely gotten started before the era of figuring things out yourself started getting eclipsed by the business of game hints. In 1989 Sierra introduced their new hint line – for only $0.75 for the first minute and $0.50 for every additional minute, you could talk to someone who would tell you how to get through their games. I don’t believe I ever called them, but only because I didn’t have a credit card when I was 8. Gaming magazines, like Nintendo Power had sections dedicated to hints and strategies. Prima Games started making strategy guides in 1990, and their guides for challenging games like Myst sold like hotcakes. Hints were on TV too. If you were lucky enough to be a Canadian with access to YTV, Nicholas Picholas would share Turbo Tips with you every week on Video & Arcade Top 10, which premiered in 1991. In 1995 GameFAQs was created, which really got the ball rolling on internet game walkthroughs and guides.

Access to information is great, but when does it become too much? When does it begin to hinder enjoyment of a game rather than enhance it?

Let’s talk about World of Warcraft for a bit. When I first started playing World of Warcraft, one of the coolest things about it was the amount of exploration I could do. Everything was new to me. Every zone had new things to look at, and every quest (whose text I needed to read in order to know where to go) told a new story. There were little surprises, like treasure chests you could find scattered about. Sure, they rarely had anything exciting in them but just finding them and anticipating the contents as you opened them was exciting. Doing dungeons or killing a rare I stumbled upon and having a blue piece of loot for me was unexpected and rewarding. One of my favourite early memories from the game was finding and completing the questline that eventually rewarded me with the Sprite Darter Hatchlings. The quest-giver was quite hidden, so it felt like a secret. Not everyone had one, so it felt special.

If you asked me to name a time something unexpected or surprising happened to me in WoW over the last few expansions, I’d be hard pressed to think of one. What happened? Information overload happened. The Sprite Darter Hatchling questline (if it still existed) could never stay hidden, you’d see a big yellow exclamation point on your map as you came near it. Getting stuck on a quest became near impossible as your map would highlight the area you needed to go. Reading the quest text and actually knowing what was happening in the story became a thing of the past for me, since it was no longer required.

Mods were created that gave you information in-game that you’d otherwise not have access to. With AtlasLoot Enhanced, I could see the loot table of every boss I fought. Good drops were no longer an unexpected delight, because I knew where they all came from. Bad drops became infinitely more disappointing because I knew when they came at the expense of a drop I really wanted. Rare mobs stopped being interesting as soon as I downloaded RareSpawn Overlay so I could see where every one of them spawned and NPC Scan which would blast noise at me as soon as one was in range so I didn’t even need to pay attention to the game. Mists of Pandaria introduced treasures and BoA items you could find around the map. These were fun, until I realized it was much more efficient to check the Wowhead guide and see a map which pinpointed every single one, or download TomTom and be navigated right to them.

Further than just information about objects, there’s also a ton of information available about how to play your character. IcyVeins will tell you how to spec and ability priorities. Mods like SpellFlash will tell you what spell to cast next. Even the default UI will make your spell icons flash when an ability is ready to use. Raid healing was always my favourite thing because it required some decision-making and quick reactions on my part, but even those requirements are reduced by DBM counting down every major ability I need to know about or GTFO screaming when I stand in bad things.

Looking up the information or installing an addon is so much more efficient than trying to figure things out or find things yourself. But it is not more fun. Sure, you could just not use addons, not use Wowhead, but that’s a lot like telling someone who complained about content nerfs to just turn off the Dragon Soul buff. Technically possible, but not bloody likely. Why should you handicap yourself?

For a game with such a huge, beautiful world there’s actually very little to discover in WoW that you can’t find in a database first. Exploration can seem like a waste of time. With PTRs, Betas, and datamining, it’s even possible to learn everything there is to know about a new content patch or expansion – every item, achievement, cinematic, quest – before it’s even released.

Of course, WoW is not the only game that can be ruined by having too much information easily accessible. With all the walkthroughs, FAQs and video guides available, it’s possible to ruin almost any game. Information is good and sometimes a game will really stump me so I’m happy it’s there. However, there’s a thin line between access to info that prevents me from banging my head against a wall for too long, and having so much information available that I never have to actually think for myself.  I played a puzzler called The Bridge a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. At first. The puzzles were all based on gravity, sometimes momentum, and solving them in the first few levels made me feel accomplished, especially as they got more challenging. But then came a puzzle that I played around with for a good 10 minutes and I couldn’t figure out how to solve it. So I looked up a video, got the solution and went on my way. The next puzzle that stumped me I only tried for a couple of minutes. I mean, I had already found a cool video guide that had all the answers, doesn’t hurt to take another peek, right? By the end of the game I was sitting at my computer, right hand on the keyboard, left hand holding my iPhone as a video walked me through the solutions to all of the last puzzles. This is not fun. This is not gaming. I want to think, want to have to try, but all the answers are right there. Looking up the answers is so fast and easy.

I lack self-control when it comes to spoilers, though the pervasive presence of guides makes me think I’m not the only one. Once I’ve looked up a solution, it becomes very hard not to do it again for that game. Soon I’m not even enjoying the game, I’m just following a set of directions from point A to point B.

When it comes to availability of this information there’s no going back, but it does make me miss the days when finding that information was just a little bit harder and thinking for yourself felt more encouraged.

Role Playing Game

RPGs are one of my favourite genres of video games, but what exactly is a role-playing game?

A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.

That’s not a very comprehensive description, as it could apply to almost any game. Though I control the character Mario in the fictional setting of the Mushroom Kingdom, I’d never call Super Mario Bros a role-playing game. Ultimately, this whole post is about semantics, but I’m interested in how people define this particular genre and what games the RPG moniker it gets applied to.

The first game that really made me question the meaning of RPG was Borderlands, a game that billed itself as a role-playing shooter. The game had a number of mechanics in common with the more traditional role-playing games such as choice of class, a talent tree, and power increases through gear and gaining stats as you level. But for me, nothing about Borderlands made me feel like I was playing a role. Whether I played as Mordechai the hunter, or Lilith the siren, the game never felt any different beyond basic combat mechanics. A talent tree does not an RPG make.

Talent tree for Mordechai in Borderlands

Character building is a huge part of RPGs, and can fall into one of two categories. The first, which I’ll call mechanical character building, happens by gaining experience through quests or combat, which increases your level, which in turn increases your character’s stats or gives you more abilities. Mechanical character building is what makes you feel like your character is getting more powerful. The second type, which I’ll call narrative character building happens by making decisions that affect your character in different ways. Rather than levelling until you get 18 Strength, you’re making decisions that develop your character’s personality, how other characters react to you, maybe even the game world. Without this second type of character building I’m reluctant to classify a game as an RPG.

Druid talent trees

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, but I have honestly never considered that an accurate classification. I know that many people play WoW as an RPG – they create backstories for their characters, give them a personality, and maybe even speak to others in-game in character, but this really comes from their own creativity and imagination. Blizzard developed a lot of lore that people can pull their character stories from, but if you take just the actual game content, there’s really not a lot of character building. As someone who does not RP in-game and is not interested in creating my own stories about my character, my Night Elf Druid is really no different from any of a million other Night Elf Druids. Or Tauren Warriors, for that matter. They don’t talk. They don’t have a personality. They don’t make decisions any deeper than do this quest or don’t do this quest. None of the adventures I have in-game effect the larger world, or the story of the game. We can kill the game’s antagonist on Monday only to have him come back on Tuesday. Choosing to be Resto vs Feral or taking Nature’s Vigil over Heart of the Wild make me feel like I’m developing a stat sheet, not a character. For me, the character building in WoW was 100% mechanical.

Planescape Torment conversation options

Another related, somewhat overlapping component of RPGs is choice and decision-making. You can choose your companions in games like Baldur’s Gate. You can choose to join the Dustmen faction, the Anarchists, or the Sensates (or all of them) in Planescape: Torment. You can choose who will rule the kingdom in Dragon Age. All of these decisions affect the game experience in some way, from making different sidequests available to changing the ending.

FF7 Golden Pagoda

Thinking about RPGs from a decision-making and effect point of view makes me think again about JRPGs. Take Final Fantasy 7 for example. There’s actually very little decision-making in this game. In terms of mechanical character development, you don’t even build your character you really just choose weapons and materia to use. Cloud is Cloud and nothing you do changes his story. You can choose to do certain optional content – recruit Yuffie and Vincent, fight the Weapons, breed chocobos – but again, that doesn’t really impact your character or the narrative. The only part of the game that really provides you with something different based on your decisions is who you go on a date with at the Gold Saucer. Final Fantasy or Shadow Hearts, two series I love, don’t really let me develop a character. The protagonists are written in one way and I’m just along for the ride.

The Walking Dead decisions

So what about games that allow you to make decisions and do a lot of narrative character building, but have no mechanical character building? The Walking Dead is full of choices to make and allows you to shape Lee’s personality, but there is no levelling or gearing up. You don’t get stronger, you just develop the story and cultivate relationships with your companions. Is this an RPG? I personally feel that this kind of decision heavy game provides a much more immersive role-playing experience than something that allows me to adjust 100 different stats, traits, and abilities on a character sheet. But that’s just my opinion.

To me, what makes an RPG is decision-making and character building. Without the ability to have input into the character’s development and choices, I really don’t feel like I’m playing a role. The subgenre of the game – it could be a shooter, or turn-based strategy, or action – doesn’t matter, so much as being able to have an effect on events in the game.

Gamergate

I didn’t want to talk about this topic because I wanted the whole issue to suffocate from lack of attention and die away. However, I find the whole thing so frustrating that I feel the need to write words about it to work through it and try to understand. I wrote a comment on a post about this (one of the few times I’ve weighed in on a public comment section) and the 400 other responses I keep getting emailed by Disqus have given me things to think about and things to rage about. I won’t claim to have read everything there is to read about the issue, it’s just too much shit to wade through. But I’ve read articles from both sides, I’ve read the comments, I’ve read through the GamerGate hashtag for as long as I could stomach it.

On the surface, GamerGate claims to be against biased and corrupt game journalism. Okay, being against bias and corruption seems like a logical thing. So where does the whole thing get so crazy?

Let’s look at some of the specific claims and complaints.

It is a conflict of interest for game journalists to have relationships with game developers. This could mean a writer is friends, or lovers with a game dev. It could mean a writer supports a dev’s work via Patreon. Yes, relationships can create bias. So can things like personal experience and tastes, but that’s beside the point. The important question for me is – what effect do these biases have?

A game writer gives publicity to a friend’s game it might not have gotten otherwise. Why is this something to get upset over? Having connections in an industry will give you more exposure in that industry. This is common sense, not corruption.

How about prominent game writers or developers coming to the defense of someone who is being harassed and attacked? Again, not corruption. This is a rather expected response.

Press and developers being too cozy? People in the same industry, with similar interests, who attend the same events will make friends. Maybe even start relationships. How many people have met a significant other or made friends at work? Why is games journalism a field where this is so taboo?

I think a big part of the problem is that people are taking game journalism way too seriously. They’re trying to impose very strict ethical guidelines in a place where they just don’t make sense. We’re not talking about coverage of politics (although this has gotten very political), or lawmaking, or international relations. We’re talking about video games. Most of game journalism is not news. It’s opinion. A game review is opinion. Social commentary about gaming is opinion. Agree with it, don’t agree with it, then move on with your life. If a journalist writes about a friend’s game and their bias clouds their review, is it the end of the world? No. And there will be 300 other reviews of that game that you could read which would balance their opinion. People have ridiculous expectations. Did gamers really see game journalists as infallible sources of consumer information before? Unless you’re reporting the specs of a new console, we’re not talking about facts. Whether a game is good or bad is not fact. It’s subjective opinion.

The inciting incident for GamerGate was Eron Gjoni writing a 9000 word manifesto on all the terrible things his game developer ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn had done. Namely, cheating on him with some men who were game journalists. This caused all kinds of outrage and was apparently evidence of how corrupt the industry is. Zoe Quinn had slept her way to coverage and good reviews of her games. The problem was these reviews didn’t exist. One of the journalists had mentioned her game in passing, but it looks like this happened before they had any sexual relationship. What I took away from Gjoni’s post was not that the gaming industry was a vile pit of corruption, but rather that I probably don’t ever want to date Zoe Quinn or Eron Gjoni. What I take away from the shitstorm the post caused is that a lot of people erroneously think that this woman’s sex life is any of their business.

The term misogyny is getting thrown at GamerGate supporters a lot. Are they really upset about corruption in journalism, or are they just using this as an excuse to harass women out of the industry? While I believe that the true misogynists make up a small (though very vocal) minority of the people involved in this, it’s hard to reconcile the people who do not have this intent. Why is Quinn – who is a developer, not a journalist – bearing the brunt of this? If unethical journalism is the true target, why is she the enemy?

I won’t deny the possibility of corruption in any industry that makes money but 98% of the examples of corruption in journalism I’ve seen brought up by GamerGate are about Zoe Quinn. Give me more examples of actual journalists being corrupt. Show me how this has affected people’s lives in real negative ways. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to write the whole thing off as an excuse to harass people.

Gaming sites are attacking gamers. After the Zoe Quinn “scandal” was brought to light, and after Anita Sarkeesian released a new Tropes vs. Women video, both women were subject to harassment and threats. Soon after this a number of gaming sites published articles with titles along the lines of “Gamers are Over”, which denounced this behaviour and condemned gaming culture as being toxic and entitled. The gamer stereotypes, lonely white males in basements, were presented as being on their way out, and angry because their hobby was evolving while they were not.

First of all, I think inflammatory titles like “Death to Gamers” are unnecessary and do more harm than good. Biting the hands that feed you is also pretty stupid. I identify as a gamer. However, I’m also a reasonable human being. When gamers are decried for being angry, socially inept douchebags, I don’t feel personally attacked. I know they aren’t talking about me. I think that people could be more careful about their language to avoid the appearance that they’re making sweeping generalizations about certain group, if for no other reason than it would not encourage the creation of more stupid hashtags.

Ultimately, this is all semantics. Gamer doesn’t have a set meaning. It means different things to different people. Gamers come from all walks of life, like different games, and have different opinions. Staunch support or opposition to “gamer” culture is silly because it’s not a single, definable thing.

Social Justice Warriors are destroying gaming and game journalism. People criticize the things they love. Suck it up, buttercup.

There are two main complaints here. The first is that gaming journalists are using gaming sites to push radical social justice. People just want to play games and have fun, they don’t want political agendas shoved down their throat. No one wants games to stop being fun. However, many people want to raise concerns about certain issues in games to raise awareness and hopefully encourage games to evolve. If you think reducing the amount of people who are marginalized by games will make them less fun, there’s probably something wrong with you. If this isn’t an interest of yours you don’t have to read these articles. Even in the most left-leaning of gaming sites that I frequent, these articles do not make up the majority of what gets published. There’s plenty of other kinds of articles – straight up reviews, previews, news, interviews. If you don’t want to read someone’s opinion on lack of female characters in the new Assassin’s Creed, no one is forcing you to.

The second type of complaints seems to stem from games like Gone Home getting well reviewed. Apparently, enjoying games that do things differently is a threat to the more traditional games. Or positively reviewing this type of game means you’re corrupt because how could anyone enjoy a “walking simulator”. This one seems almost too silly to respond to. The industry evolving is good. More choices are good. No one is taking your preferred games away.

Game journalists are glorified bloggers and have become irrelevant.

So let me get this straight. Game journalists are just bloggers (which is apparently a pejorative term? ouch). They are irrelevant. So, if they are irrelevant and their opinions carry no weight, why are people so mad about them saying that gamer culture is dead? Who cares what they think? Why do they need to live up to such high ethical standards in order to talk about games? Make up your minds, folks. Either Polygon and Gamespot and Kotaku should be sources of unbiased, unadulterated, objective facts about video games, or they’re irrelevant and their integrity shouldn’t matter.

If you really think that game journalism should no longer have a place in the industry, then stop visiting gaming sites and giving them revenue. Watch YouTube videos, read personal blogs, or get opinions from your friends. Let game journalism die its slow (inevitable, according to many GamerGate supporters) death. That many are opting to harass journalists instead calls the true motivations of GamerGate into question.

This is the Way the World Ends

Warning: This post will deal with sexual violence against women, and include examples of it from literature, movies, and games. Read at your own discretion.


Plague has struck. It starts slowly. A sniffle here, a fever there. Then it spreads, faster and faster. Soon, everyone is sick. Then most people are dead. The few humans who were immune start to band together and rebuild, but not everyone has the same goals.

Death comes, but it doesn’t stick. The dead get back up and start walking. Start feeding. Soon the world is overrun. Those left alive are no longer living, they’re merely surviving; going from place to place in search of food and shelter from the horde. Of all the limited resources, trust in other people is the most scarce.

War. Two nations are at a standstill and then someone presses a button. It doesn’t matter who fired first, but soon the warheads are dropping and the world will never be the same. Survivors separate into factions based on differing ideals, and soon a different kind of war is underway.


The apocalypse is rife with opportunities for storytelling. There are so many ways that humans can destroy themselves, and just as many avenues to explore about starting over again. Stories about the end of the world usually describe people at their best – banding together to rebuild – and at their worst. Part of humans at their worst that gets shown in these stories tends to be men capturing, subjugating, commoditizing, and raping women.

Apocalyptic and dystopic fiction was always one of my favourite genres so I’ve read/watched/played a lot of these narratives and unfortunately, I can think of more of them that use this device than ones that don’t. Five years ago, this may not have bothered me. But now that I’m aware of the issue and see how prevalent it is, it’s impossible to stop seeing it.

Rape, or threat of rape of female characters tends to be used for one of three, often overlapping, purposes.

To show how bad the situation is, or how evil a villain is.

  • In the book Blindness a group of violent infected take control over a hospital and the women are subjected to rape in exchange for food.
  • In the movie Waterworld, the male protagonist considers trading the two main female characters to slavers.
  • In the show The Walking Dead, threat of rape is used by The Governor to get information from a woman he has taken captive.

So they can be saved.

  • In the book Dies the Fire a mother and her children are captured by a group of survivalists. The mother is killed, and one of the daughters is about to be raped before she is saved by the male protagonist.
  • In the book The Stand, two of the women who become part of the Free Zone were rescued from a group of other survivors who had repeatedly raped them.
  • In the game Dead Rising one of the psychopaths (who is female) has captured a group of women and is torturing and killing them. You must kill the psychopath and save the women.
  • In Dead Rising 2 one of the psychopaths kidnaps and tries to forcibly marry a woman so he doesn’t have to die a virgin. You must kill the psychopath and save the woman.
  • In the movie 28 Days Later the two main female characters were taken as the “answer to infection”. They were dolled up and handed over to male soldiers to be raped. Ultimately they escape this, saved by the male protagonist.

For character development

  • In the game The Last of Us, Ellie is taken by another group of survivors. Their leader tries to take her under his wing, but when she doesn’t cooperate he decides to kill her. When she injures him, it’s suggested that he intends to rape her before killing her. In the chapter after this experience, Ellie is noticeably quiet and withdrawn.
  • In the book Dead: Revelations a young girl is captured by a man and repeatedly subjected to rape, physical abuse, and psychological torment.

The severity of the sexual violence against women that is portrayed varies, but the thing most of these examples have in common is that it’s completely unnecessary. It’s not driving the story forward. It’s not adding any real character development.

The use of rape rarely tells us anything we don’t already know about a villain. In The Walking Dead, we know that The Governor is a bad guy. We’ve seen him manipulate and kill. We’ve seen him send his own people into the zombie-fighting arena for sport. Why do we need to see him force Maggie to take her shirt off and threaten her with rape in order to get information when we know the thing that makes her vulnerable is sitting in the next room? This seems like something added for shock value rather than any real narrative reason.

Similarly, adding rape to the all too familiar “save the women” trope is a lazy and gratuitous way to make male protagonists more heroic. In The Stand, Dana and Susan’s backstory of having been part of a harem wasn’t even mentioned in the original release of the novel, it was added in as part of the unabridged re-release. Did mentioning their ordeals before they joined Stuart’s group add anything to either of their stories? Did adding in rape somehow make their characters more understandable? relatable? interesting? Not really. In Dead Rising 2, the woman you save from being forced into marriage and sex isn’t even distinguishable from any of the other dozens of survivors you save once it’s over.

What about adding rape for character “development”? When I was about halfway through The Last of Us, I was ecstatic that I had yet to see any questionable content about women. I knew how poorly the genre could treat women, and given the dark setting I expected to hear something that indicated women were a commodity in the post-infection world. But I didn’t. Then, Winter came. We were now playing as Ellie instead of Joel. Ellie gets taken captive by David, the leader of another group, who tries to assimilate her into it. When he realizes she’d never join them he decides to kill her. When she fights back and injures him, apparently killing her isn’t enough and he attempts to rape her first. Why? What purpose did this serve? We already knew David was a bad guy, this didn’t do anything to change that. We already knew Ellie was strong and could defend herself; her fighting off a rapist rather than just a murderer did nothing to change that. At this point Ellie had been captured, injured, faced with cannibalism, separated from her only friend in the world and feared for his life. She had been left alone – something she had earlier admitted was her greatest fear. If the goal was to emotionally traumatize her, they had done all they needed to do. And then, almost flippantly, with a couple of seconds of cinematic and 2 lines of dialogue, rape gets added to the equation. I guess she needed to be punished for being so uppity? Fucking awful.

While I think most authors add rape to their stories without worrying about the consequences out of laziness, ignorance, or a desire to be edgy, some seem to use the end of the world setting as a sandbox for depravity. The book Dead: Revelations is probably the worst example I’ve seen, where there are more female characters being enslaved and abused than not. That’s one zombie series I will not be reading any more of.

The only one of the examples above where the inclusion of rape adds any nuance or social commentary to the story is 28 Days Later. It raises questions about who the real monsters are and shows how those in charge of the safety of citizens can be the most dangerous ones, especially when it comes to women. That’s 1 out of 10 that doesn’t make my skin crawl too much, not a very good ratio. Incidentally, 9 out of 10 of these examples were penned by a male, with Dead Rising 2 being the exception.

A scary thing about this post is that I didn’t have to go looking for any of the examples I’ve used here. They’re all from books, movies, or games I’ve finished where the violence portrayed against women has stuck in my head. I’m sure there are more examples that I just don’t remember. The amount this happens in fiction and in the dystopic, end of the world genre in particular is staggering. Adding rape to fiction with fantastical elements, which end of the world stories often have, seems especially gratuitous and hateful. The dead getting up and eating people? Totally believable. The hand of God coming down and setting off a nuclear blast? Sure, why not? Women not getting subjugated and violated by men? No, never, not going to happen.

Media affects how and what people think. Lazily throwing instances of rape into dystopic stories in order to show how dark and dangerous the world is, to prop up male heroes, or to “develop” female characters normalizes it. Yes, rape is something that happens in the real world, but casually adding it or eluding to it in fiction is just not necessary and does more harm than good. Many people are all too familiar with it, and don’t need fiction to remind them of the trauma. We also don’t need reminders or reinforcements that men often have power over women’s bodies. We get to see that in the news, and in our governments. We get to hear men comment on a women’s physical appearance before giving any heed to the things she has to say. We get to hear the vocal subsets of small-minded, awful men who think women need to be punished for having sex, or not having sex with them, or wearing certain things, or just existing in their space.

If rape doesn’t add anything to the story… why add it to the story?